It started with a whippet...
In 2018 when I was living in Melbourne, Australia, I brought home a three year old whippet called Slaine (Fraidykickers). When I was shopping for collars, leads and other accessories that are a necessity when you bring home a new fur baby, I found that almost everything on the market contained plastic.
Almost all leads, collars, beds and toys for animals are currently constructed using plastic; either entirely or in part. Most of these products end up in landfill after a few years due to daily wear and tear and the cycle of consume, use and throw away is repeated for the lifespan of each pet (generally 12-16 years).
Many toys and other accessories for training and enrichment are often manufactured out of rubber, which is a naturally occurring product, but methods of harvesting it are environmentally intensive and its use is becoming increasingly problematic with the widespread rise of allergies to latex. Without offering an alternative range of products, the act of owning an animal becomes one of the most unaddressed issues in this environmental disaster that we face.
Most leads and collars for animals on the market are made using polypropylene webbing and elastic for the obvious strength and durability they offer and the low cost for which they can be manufactured. Bedding comes in various forms, but is mostly filled with compressed polyurethane foam and covered in fabrics such as polyester micro fibres, due to the necessity to regularly clean these items as well as the warmth and comfort offered. With a limited life, all of these items inevitably end up as landfill and eventually as environmental pollution with hazardous implications.
In recent years the surge in production has been driven largely by the expanded use of disposable plastic packaging and items that have a "built in obsolescence ".
Roughly 40 percent of the now more than 448 million tons of plastic produced every year is disposable, much of it used as packaging intended to be discarded within minutes after purchase. Production has grown at such a pace that virtually half the plastic ever manufactured has been made in the past 15 years.
Discarded plastic items eventually end up after an extensive journey in the soil and oceans of our planet, where they not only pose a danger to the wildlife that inhabit them, but also alter the chemical structure of the environment in ways that render it toxic and disrupt entire ecosystems that are crucial to our existence. Plastic micro particles from cosmetics and microfibers from synthetic clothes are washed into the sewage system, eventually ending up in the air that we breathe with far-reaching consequences that we can only speculate on.
The most heartening thing about the plastic waste problem is the recent explosion of attention to it, and even of serious, if scattered, efforts to address it. It has become such an issue that in February of this year, the United Nations declared war on ocean plastic. Thirty countries have now joined the UN’s CleanSeas campaign, including the UK, Canada, France, Indonesia, Sierra Leone, Brazil, Norway, Italy, Costa Rica, Kenya and Peru. The US, China, Russia and Japan have not.
One under-served industry remains the rapidly growing area of pet accessories. There are many essential things required when bringing home a dog and each year worldwide an average of 7 billion pounds is spent on the pet industry alone. Within this field, even the most luxurious items (such as bedding) are made of plastic based materials.
On top of this, the ethical questions about accompany manufacture of consumable goods such as unfair trading practices, slave labour, carbon emissions and cruelty to animals as well as sustainability of industry and it definitely becomes a problem worth solving.
Slaine the whippet